Breastfeeding. Oh, breastfeeding. Such a hot button topic with moms. I hadn't really thought about it until well into my pregnancy, but once I started reading about it, I thought....oh, I can do that. It seemed easy, it's free, and there are many reported benefits for both mom and baby.
Ha. Hahaha. Easy?
Our breastfeeding journey has been anything but easy. I am not writing about my experience to turn anyone off of breastfeeding. I am writing about it because everything I read had me duped. I even took a class at the hospital. I was under the impression that it might take a little work for everything to be perfect, but that the whole process is instinctual for the baby and that it shouldn't be too hard. I learned about all the different holds, the anatomy of the breast and baby's mouth, and what a good latch should look like. What I didn't know was that it WILL be painful in the beginning, there is a serious learning curve, and there are lots of things you'll need that aren't free. I wish I knew what difficulties I would face so that I could have been truly prepared. I
am pretty sure my Baby Blues were exacerbated by my BF experience. I felt a lot of guilt because I wanted to quit after just a few days (and I still have days where I seriously contemplate stopping), but hearing for other moms that what I was going through was normal helped me to power through.
So about that experience...
I BFed Caroline right after she was born. She latched on and went to town. I don't remember if it was painful that first time because the first hour or so after delivery was such a whirlwind. I was so overwhelmed with emotion and my new baby....so everything is a little fuzzy. Things started to be obviously painful that first night. Every time she latched on it really hurt. I had bruising on my areolas right away. By the time we went home my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I dreaded every feeding because the pain was so excruciating. Once my milk came in, I was so engorged that I couldn't sleep or lie down comfortably. Luckily the initial engorgement died down after a couple days. Seven weeks in though, and I am still not fully regulated and I still have pain when BFing. I also am constantly battling plugged milk ducts. I started taking 1200 mg of Lecithin 3x a day to help prevent them, but I still get one every few days. They are painful and make my breasts sore. You have to massage and apply warm compresses to get rid of them, which is particularly a pain in the middle of the night. I worry that a plugged duct will turn into mastitis, which is a nasty infection that I do not want to mess with. I had one plugged duct a couple weeks ago that left me with a red streak on my breast, one of the signs of mastitis. Luckily it went away after about a week and nothing materialized. But I was scared and freaked out the entire time it was there.
Then there is the gassiness, fussiness, and spit up. We still don't know
what exactly is going on with Caroline, but these are all things we face daily. I am
trying to eliminate certain things in my diet to see if we can identify
what exactly is bothering her, but this proved to be difficult and
also had me feeling guilty every time I ate something that could
possibly irritate her. Two weeks ago we started to give her gas drops
at every feeding (after an emergency trip to the pediatrician), which
seem to be helping some. The spit up, however, is an ongoing issue. We go through many outfits,
burp clothes, and blankets throughout the day. Caroline was slow to get
back up to birth weight, which can happen with BF babies....especially
if they are spitting up a lot. She did eventually start gaining appropriately and we didn't need to supplement, but I felt like a real failure
at her first pediatrician appointment, like I wasn't providing enough
nourishment for my baby. Anyway, these things are not issues for every
baby, but they aren't super uncommon either. I wish I had known this in
the beginning so that we could have started gas drops sooner, and so I
didn't panic every time she spit up or fussed like crazy.
I think my early experience would have been better if a few things happened differently. I wanted to meet with the lactation consultant on staff with the hospital when we were still in maternity, but she just happened to be on vacation that weekend. The nurses on maternity tried to help me with the latch, but a lot of their help was more in just getting her on, and they didn't have the time to sit and help me make sure she was on there right. I should have asked for more help from the nurses. I did end up meeting with two different LCs at the hospital's community health center during the first two weeks. They both helped us with our latch, but by the time I saw the second LC, there was so much damage to my nipples, that even a proper latch was painful. I was then prescribed All Purpose Nipple Cream to help heal my nipples, because Lansinoh and Motherlove weren't cutting it. Within a week or so the scabs and cracks had healed, but to this day, I am still tender. If it hadn't gotten to such a painful point, I might have fed her more and mastered everything quicker. She might have gained weight better if she nursed more often. Etc, etc, etc. I think everything just snowballed, and what might have been a minor issue (say, a plugged duct) felt like such a huge deal in light of everything else I was dealing with.
And as for breastfeeding being free? Perhaps if you take a super minimalist approach, but that just isn't realistic for most people. You need nursing bras and nursing tanks. You need creams and gel pads to help with the initial pain and burning. You need breast pads for the leaking. You need a pump. I ended up buying two....both a manual (for engorgement or just expressing a little milk here and there) and a double electric (for when I am away from Caroline during a feeding, to build up a frozen stash, or to pump so AJ can give her a bottle). These things add up quick. Most of the things just require an initial investment, but it certainly isn't "free".
Things are improving though. I can take a shower without shielding my nipples. I don't cringe when I put on breast pads and a bra. Caroline is now gaining weight as she should and definitely looks like she is filling out. And I really do cherish the time we spend nursing. Things aren't perfect yet, but I can see that they are getting better, and I am holding out hope that we'll be pros at this someday.
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